Home | Short Stories | Nº 111 – Utopia?

Nº 111 – Utopia?

Saturday the 23rd of October 2021.

…so, who really determines our future when we have a threat hanging over us which knocks on the door of our consciousness on a daily basis – yet one that most people don’t want to let in under any circumstances? Most Europeans are still successfully blocking this threat from their consciousness. They keep their doors and windows shut tight, especially when it’s about receiving the first refugees fleeing climate destruction and war in Africa who were able to be saved, fished out of the Mediterranean Sea. As if the threat of climate emergency could be simply ignored in the long run! Many young people are looking the threat in the eye as we speak, while the old defend the status quo with a shrug of their shoulders. For this threat has long ceased to be a far-off dystopia nor has it moved on as a spell a bad weather would. Storms leave behind devastation, forest fires and desertification. Most old white Europeans take part in tuning the climate crisis out of their minds, preferring to carry on as before. Up to now, everything always turned out fine in the end, again and again, hasn’t it? It’s the young and the climate refugees who see their future in danger and are demanding a new perspective, right now and before the heat of the summer becomes unbearable. It is to support them that we are publishing the story of a round-the-world sailing trip…


We have an American sailor to thank for the fact that our route across the Atlantic didn’t end directly in the Caribbean but led us to approach the „Windward Islands” from below as it were, Paul Piendl (23) writes in his logbook. He was waxing lyrical about the country. About the unspoiltness of nature, the friendliness of the locals and the varied beauty of the area. French-Guiana, Suriname and Guiana are supposed to be what the Caribbean was like 50 years ago.

Searching for a life in intact nature Paul Piendl is sailing around the world with his friends, aboard the 45-year-old sailing boat WASA. ECO123 is accompanying them along the way, telling their story. What influence is climate change having on the dreams and the reality of these young people? What are their experiences? How is climate change impacting their journey?

Sailing the Seven Seas:

Around the world on a sailing boat

The young Paul Piendl is celebrating his 23rd birthday on his sailing boat

Do we feel the cognitive pain when we remember the times when we oldies were planning our future and the next holiday? By now the situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Not only because the idea of a future for young people is disappearing, no, our system of market economy, money and greed and we humans as part of this farce are about to in full consciousness destroy the natural resources of all living creatures. This is not a piece of drama to be played out on some stage or other. In the climate crisis civilisation is meeting its own finiteness, and for the time being the future is no longer an open horizon, doesn’t offer a long-term perspective for a future, only a recurring past. We consumers are hit with the sins of the fossil age, all the environmental crimes, the whole dirt of only 150 years of industrial history.

The climate crisis is rocking any hope for a safe future. How do you bear that as a young person without going insane?

You have no chance, make sure you take it. This is how I approach my weekly ZOOM chat with Paulo Piendl. Having just turned 23 he is living his childhood dream. Every week we talk about details of his round-the-world sailing trip, including about the weather and the feeling of being embedded in the natural element of water. He is writing about his journey in instalments, keeps a diary and a blog and allows ECO123 a glimpse of his logbook. In Costa Rica he’ll have to work if he wants to cross the Pacific, he says. He wasn’t born into a rich family. In the middle of our ZOOM chat an empty plastic bottle trundles past on the open sea. Where it doesn’t belong really. These are the precursors of a civilisation that gifts its planet nothing but waste. Are the creatures living in our oceans supposed to drown in the plastic waste produced by humanity?

Together with two friends, Paul is on his way with his 9-metre sailing boat from Lagos in Portugal via the Canary Islands, taking advantage of the Gulf Stream and the Passat winds all the way to French Guiana. From there he is planning to continue through the southern part of the Caribbean to Panama, through the Panama Canal to Costa Rica. Just passing the canal will cost him 2,000 dollars. That’s a lot of money for a small sailing boat. From there, that’s the idea anyway, the trip will carry on to French Polynesia – and continue across the Pacific all the way to Australia. That’s meant to be his route. Will he make it? Or will he meet the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is the last place he wants to end up in?


The Atlantic

Long before the eruption of the La Palma volcano the three boys are loading up the boat with fresh fruit and veg, flour, rice, pasta and lentils, sweetcorn, beans, peas, mushrooms, red and white cabbage for the last time. Plenty of tins are stowed away into the storage compartments and the bilge. With 250 litres of water, plus juices and soft drinks Paul and his two friends Leon and Moritz are well equipped to spend at least 25 days at sea. They have sufficient supplies for an Atlantic crossing, something Greta Thunberg and Boris Herrmann only needed 14 days for.

ECO123 asks: „How do you prepare for a potential storm?“ As Paul explains: „When we’re at sea, we have two ways of supplying ourselves with weather information. One is to ask daddy via satellite phone for a weather update. The second is the one I prefer, as it involves more communication. If a freighter approaches within reach of radio contact, I use the opportunity for a little small talk. Using the AIS (Automatic Identification System for Ships and Yachts) it’s easy to find out the name of the ship, which means I can contact the freighters’ commando bridge directly. Calling „Freighter, Freighter, Freighter, this is sailing vessel WASA, can you hear me? Over!“, I try to establish contact. I believe most on-duty officers on the bridge are happy about a change of routine. Often we don’t only receive the weather information we requested but also chat a bit about the next destination and wish each other a safe journey …“

Paul resolves to keep a logbook every day at midday and to enter their current position in a nautical chart. His entries start with basic information, including the WASA’s position, the current logbook entry, the course, wind speed and direction, as well as a statement on the weather and the waves. Calculating the etmal, the distance covered in 24h, also forms part of this task, as well as short notes on specific incidents or the general day-to-day life aboard, which complete the entry. And in the evening there’s the entries in the diary to take care of as well.

Before they set sail from La Palma, a couple had given them a piece of good advice: „Write something down every day. Otherwise you’ll get to the other side and there’ll be nothing left of the crossing but „Hoisted the sails once and lowered them again at the end“.

“How right they were”, Paul says. “The first week in particular was exhausting. We had to get used to the strong rolling movements of the boat and the new sleeping rhythm during the lookout shifts. We sleep a lot. The days blend into each other, and by the end of the first week no one can remember whether

Sunday, 14 February;

12am UTC: log:453sm; course 224°; position: 23°33.4’N, 22°42.0’W; waves: 3m; wind appears NE 13kn; etmal: 143 sea miles.

Yesterday was the first „bucket day“. From now on every other day is washing day! The night is rather uneventful. Reefed the sails a little.

This morning we caught a fish on the hook. According to the book a „ frigate mackerel“.

6.30pm: we had the fish for lunch, sautéed with vegetables. Tasty! Not much to do beside cooking.

At night, starting with dusk and continuing on to some point in the afternoon, the friends have divided up their time on board in shifts of three hours. That way at least one of them sits in the cockpit and can keep watch. Their tasks include to keep an eye on all parameters such as their course, the wind direction and its force. They will scan the horizon for lights of other ships and monitor their environment on the chart plotter using AIS.

Minor changes in course may be easily effected by one person only, by a short pull on the rudder-line of the wind vane. However, if a ship gets suspiciously close, or if the wind increases to the point that the sails have to be reefed, the skipper has to be woken up. No one is allowed to leave the cockpit during the night, to work on the sails for example. It goes without saying that they wear lifejackets at night, fastening themselves onto the boat with the hooks and ropes provided for the purpose.

Wednesday, 17 February:

07.15am UTC, 05.15 local time: It’s been foggy since last night. Visibility 1-4 sea miles max. Leon discovered a fishing boat in amongst the wafts of mist. They hadn’t turned on their AIS. With the radar we find them only two sea miles away! Scary, in the middle of the fog on the high seas.

12am UTC: log: 888sm; course 250°; position: 19°09.62’N, 28°34.40’W; waves: 3m; wind: NE 10kn; etmal:130 sea miles.

It’s still foggy. We’ve just been hit by a big wave big time. Water is spraying across the entire boat, part of it pouring in a nice big spurt through the small porthole into Leon’s bed. Leon is now awake …

The fog doesn’t lift for another two days. Worried about further encounters with invisible fishing boats we leave the radar equipment on that first night. However, as there’s nothing to see really, we can’t generate energy from our solar cells and don’t want to always leave the engine running, the following night we are already sailing blind again.

Life on board becomes easier by the day. After one week our body and our senses have gotten used to the constant swaying. Our sour dough starter died a few days ago, but we start baking our own bread again. Now using dry yeast, still very tasty.


Sunday, 21 February:

12am UTC: log: 1447; course 250°; position: 14°57.61#N, 036°52.39‘W; waves: 3- 5m; wind: NE 15-20kn; etmal: 146 sea miles.

In the morning first coffee, then music and an apple. Later sports and stretching. Clean the cockpit.

I discover a tear on the foot of the big Genua sail. So we have to retrieve and sow. Easier said than done. As both fore sails are secured by a single halyard, both sails have to be retrieved at the same time, and afterwards one hoisted again. It takes some 50 minutes until we’re underway again with proper rigging (mainsail and Genua in butterfly).

Moritz realises that the steaming light is dangling loose on the mast. So I have to climb up and fasten it again, with Moritz securing me. Pretty tiring with the waves, but everything went well.

Monday, 22 February

12am UTC: log: 1592; course 250°; position: 13°43.54’N, 038°56.34‘W; waves: 3-4m; wind: NE 16kn; etmal: 145 sea miles.

Nothing much has happened so far. Plenty of sea grass (algae) in the sea. An indication that the temperatures of the Atlantic water are too high. Next task: repairing the sails.

The following days follow more or less the same pattern. Leon and Paul take turns to repair the tear in the Genua sail. The work is tiring and it’s difficult to concentrate. After only 30 minutes working with the large cloth in your lap you’re already soaked through and ready for a snooze. Sailing on their course, which is exactly downwind, is not very comfortable with the setup they are running during the repair. If they don’t pay attention and surf down the waves too quickly the sails run out of rudder and broach. The big sail shivers and the fore sail stands back. Wednesday night, two days later, they are finally able to change over to the normal pass at rigging.

Friday, 26 February

10am: Cereals for breakfast. Wave. Cereals on the floor. Good morning!

12am UTC:  Log: 2.151; Course 250°; Position: 08°47.04’N 046°37.30‘W; Waves: 3m; Wind: NE 13kn; etmal: 132 sea miles

As per usual there is less wind now than at night. For the past few days some strong waves have been rocking us about. Short drizzle. I find a flattened flying fish in the cockpit that someone must have sat on. Delicious!

4pm: Fiiiish! The rod hasn’t been in the water five minutes even when I haul a pretty Mahi Mahi lady aboard. Filleting it I find worms in the belly and meat though. What a pity! We have roast potatoes with egg for dinner instead.

The last days fly by! The crew is electrified by the thought that they’ve nearly made it now. They are so used to the movements of the boat now that they no longer mind trying out new types of bread under deck, even kneading a proper ciabatta dough. They read, exercise, cook and pass the rest of the time completing minor tasks: dealing with the sown tackle on the end of the sheets and ropes or reattaching torn-off buttons.

Monday, 1 March:

6am UTC: My last nightshift is over. I’m excited and so awake that I stay with Leon keeping him company in the cockpit instead of sleeping. 51 sea miles to go till French-Guiana! The water is changing colour from blue to brown, a precursor of the approaching shoreline and the many rivers coming from the rainforest;

We have a stowaway: a bird, sleeping up on the radar tower;

11.45am: The wind has died down. It’s raining. Engines running since 11.30am;

12.15pm: Entry to the channel leading into Mahoury River;

2pm: Radio contact with the French navy base on the riverbank. WE HAVE OFFICIALLY ARRIVED!!

They’ve made it! They’ve sailed across the Atlantic! 2,526 sea miles. As soon as they enter the mouth of the river, they have a mobile phone signal (EU, i.e. free) and can call their parents. Who have all met up at home to follow the last miles of their kids’ crossing via satellite tracking. It’s not only the three boys who are in party mood. The parents too must have breathed a huge sigh of relief seeing that their kids have arrived in South America in excellent condition and as they put it, „well fed“…

Next week we’ll bring you the continuation of the story of Paul and his sailing boat…

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123.
Translations: Dina Adão,  Rudolfo Martins, Kathleen Becker
Fotos: Paul Piendl

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